For the first few days that Mia Ponte Vinnard and her husband, Brad Vinnard, had COVID-19 they felt exhausted and experienced severe headaches. But soon, Brad Vinnard was struggling to breathe with dangerously low oxygen levels. He went to the hospital where he later died. The last time the couple spoke, Brad Vinnard asked his wife if she’d carry out a special request for him.
“He said, ‘Convince our friends to get vaccinated. I don’t want them to have to go through what we’re going through,’” Ponte Vinnard, 54, a server in Sacramento, California, told TODAY. “I said, ‘I will. I will convince whoever will listen to me.’”
Since then, Ponte Vinnard has been encouraging their friends, family and even strangers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Ponte Vinnard and her husband were unsure about the COVID-19 vaccine so they put it off.
“We wanted to wait to see how people reacted to the vaccine,” she said. “We just waited too long.”
On June 28, Brad Vinnard began experiencing headaches and exhaustion. Two days later, Ponte Vinnard developed the same symptoms.
“We were all achy. We spent a week in bed,” Ponte Vinnard recalled. “We could barely get out of bed.”
When they started feeling a little stronger Brad Vinnard went for a COVID-19 test, which was positive.
“We knew what it was. It wasn’t like any other sickness that we’ve ever had and it’s nothing like the flu,” Ponte Vinnard said. “I started getting better and then he was still really sick.”
Brad Vinnard, 68, called his doctor but the doctor didn’t think his symptoms were severe enough to be admitted to the hospital. Then he started coughing up blood and struggling to breathe. After his sister mentioned getting a pulse oximeter, which determines how much oxygen is in the blood, they took readings of their oxygen levels. While Ponte Vinnard’s levels were at a good at 97, Brad Vinnard’s was 53.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, you need to call your doctor right now,'” Ponte Vinnard said. “He told the nurse, ‘Mine’s reading 53,' and she was like, ‘Are you sure you’re reading that right?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m reading it correctly.’ And she said, ‘You need to hang up the phone and get to the emergency room now. I mean right now.’”
Ponte Vinnard dropped her husband off at the hospital where he was admitted. As long as she was positive for COVID-19 she couldn’t visit him.
“He was in the hospital for the whole rest of the time, slowly, just getting worse every day,” she said.
Ponte Vinnard she spoke to her husband via FaceTime before she could visit. The last time he was able to speak prior to being intubated and put on a ventilator, he asked Ponte Vinnard to convince others to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I’m trying to save others. I’m on a mission,” she said. “I just have to do it to honor my husband."
About three days after Brad Vinnard was intubated, he died. While he had high blood pressure and had a stroke previously, Brad Vinnard, who worked in sales, seemed very healthy and strong. He was always active and offered to help friends whenever needed. The couple enjoyed taking rides on their Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“He was just always on the go. It was just crazy how this virus affects people. It affects everyone differently,” she said. “That’s the scary thing.”
A lasting legacy
Today Ponte Vinnard has dedicated herself to encouraging people to take COVID-19 seriously and getting vaccinated against it. She lost count after about 100 people revealed they had received the vaccine when hearing about her husband's death.
“If one or two shots could have saved my husband’s life, we would have done it in a heartbeat,” she said. “But it wasn’t real. We didn’t know anyone who got it until we got it. It is very real, very scary.”
Ponte Vinnard lives with guilt knowing that they likely spread the virus to her son, daughter-in-law and 11-month-old grandson. Her daughter-in-law had received the vaccine and after about two days of symptoms she felt better. Both Ponte Vinnard’s son and grandson have recovered and her son has received his first dose of the vaccine. She hopes that when people hear about Brad Vinnard they see themselves in him and realize vaccination is important.
“Brad was a real person. He would ride his bike all the time and sang karaoke,” she said. “That was a wake-up call for a lot of people because we were just a regular couple.”
She said losing her husband of nine years really changed what’s meaningful in her life.
“The things I thought were important, I look back now and they mean nothing really,” she said. “What means something is who you have in your life and who you love and all the rest of the stuff is just stuff. I will miss my husband every single day.”